On the Dusty Shale

Schnecksville, PA

If you ride in the woods long enough, you see lots of things. I've ridden behind running deer, felt wind from the wings of a hawk, witnessed a tryst between two turtles, broken up a fight between a groundhog and a fox, and even ran over a squirrel. On Sunday I was 25 minutes into a ride and saw something I never want to see again.

Following a hard right hander that leads into a log-over, I see my riding buddy stopped and off his bike looking a bit more confused than usual. His spare inner tube is wrapped around his rear wheel and drivetrain in a cancerous contortion of rubber and chain on his Cannondale Flash Carbon 29er. His tool strap came loose and dropped a spare tube on his rotating rear wheel so precisely that it became hopelessly tangled around the wheel, into the cluster, through the deraileur, once around the chain and back around the wheel again.

Rotating the wheel in reverse did not unwrap the tube as one might hope. In fact, it just made it tighter. The tumor needed to be cut out. Now, my man had CO2, tire tools and some lame-ass multi-tool but no knife. I travel light and carry only what I can eat or drink.

With only two hours to ride this morning, I wasn't gonna waste any of it schleppen this seized rig back to the car. Nevermind that the dude showed up late and forgot his water then dumped the water I gave him onto the head of some forty-something weekend warrior we found derlious with heatstroke. I'm smiling and we're cutting him loose and riding some more berm.

As my mind drifted to an earlier conversation about shale and flat tires and jersey pockets and where to carry inner tubes, my eye spotted a chunk of shale that looked like it could be used as a blade. It was 3 inches long, flat and thin, and had a convex curve at one end that looked pretty sharp.

Grasping the shard between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand and pulling the tube tight with my right, vigorous slashing down and away from the bike yielded a nice cutting action and "in less than a minute", according to one observer, the inner tube was cut through in two places. The bicycle's owner was able to de-thread the rubber from his wheel and drivetrain and we were soon back to sliding through the shale corners and bailing into ditches.

I had considered keeping the shale fragment but the thought of carrying an unsheathed blade in a jersey pocket next to my spine was unappealing so I chucked it into the woods. Wouldn't want that thing on the trail slashing tires.

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